Monday, September 14, 2015

To Speak Impeccably: Stop It, "You Guys"!

"Eliza, you are to stay here for the next six months
learning to speak beautifully, like a lady in a florist's shop."
Professor Henry Higgins

One terribly unrefined habit of speech in American culture is addressing a group of people as "you guys". A few generations ago, it was considered bad form to call a young man a guy, let alone any member of the fairer sex.  But now it has become so commonplace that I once heard a young school administrator address a group of senior citizens visiting the elementary school on Grandparents' Day as "you guys". No one seemed to notice anything improper about addressing a congregation graced by many silver-headed grandmothers as you guys.

This brings us to the first pillar of impeccable speech: Words are handled carefully to be fitting and proper in the given situation.  The French have a word to describe the idea of a thing being fitting and proper: comme il faut (kaw-meel foh) which means as it should be.

To speak impeccably one must choose words thoughtfully, considering whether or not their true meanings make them fitting in the circumstances.  This is the antithesis of sloppy use of language, such as addressing a group that includes grandmothers as you guys.  Impeccable speech avoids the phrase "you guys", especially when addressing any other than a group of pubescent males.  Instead, simply use the word you; or if that seems ambiguous, and you wish to clearly indicate that you are speaking to everyone in the group, say "all of you."

For example, when speaking to a couple:  "Would you guys like to come over for coffee after dinner?"  Instead, say:  "Would you two like to come over for coffee after dinner?"

Or when speaking to a group of mixed company:  "Would you guys like something to drink?"  Instead, say:  "Would anyone like something to drink?"

Impeccable Speech Habit:  Avoid the phrase you guys.

Photo: Audrey Hepburn takes elocution lessons from Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, 1964. The Kobal Collection


  1. Dear Nancy,
    The phrase "you guys" has been a pet peeve of mine for so long and it only seems to be increasing in usage! It makes my shoulders go up to my ears every time I hear it. Thank you for lifting it up as a no-no.

    1. I believe you're right, Dana ... it seems to be getting worse. I cannot count the number of times my daughter and I have been addressed this way by wait staff in "fine dining" establishments. I am so happy to hear from a kindred spirit! Thank you.

  2. Oh my! So grateful to have this brought to my attention so I can begin correcting this habit.

    Thoroughly enjoying your lovely blog, and feeling more ladylike with each read!

    1. Thank you, friend. You are a blessing to me!

    2. If one feels they must use a colloquialism, the word y'all is perfect. It addresses everyone, not just the guys. As you know, the apostle Paul often said, Greetings to you all. He may have been southern. :-)